Not Just Coffee’s new location in Uptown’s Third Ward is picturesque, both inside and out. But one of the centerpieces is the locally made neon sign on the back wall. It’s the type of thing you take an Instagram of, and many people have.
Within a few weeks, though, this “Stay Woke” sign ended up being replaced with a more generic version. The reason? The social justice-minded slogan ended up upsetting the very communities it means the most to. “Stay woke” can mean many things, but put simply is a phrase used in the black community to encourage people to be aware of injustice and as a call to action.
Ironically, some people interpreted the “Stay Woke” as an example of doing just the opposite.
Not Just Coffee co-owners James and Miracle Yoder don’t describe themselves as activists, but they’re certainly socially minded. As the nation has renewed a public debate over the treatment of African-Americans in society, by the police and otherwise, the two have raised their voices as well in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
And when it came time to design the interior of the new Not Just Coffee location, they wanted to have a bit of that reflected. Hence the sign.
“We understood it as a statement of conscientiousness,” James said.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter-MLK JR. “We cannot remain silent. We see and recognize a system that is broken, that benefits some at the expense of others. As citizens and business owners with influence, however slight, we see it as our responsibility to speak up. When any portion of our population is treated without justice, it is our duty to say something. We don’t have the answers, but we want to work to find them. It starts with the conversations that are hard to have, that make us uncomfortable. We know someone’s skin color should not dictate how they are treated. We, as individuals and as a country cannot allow fear and hate to continue to drive the narrative. There is an answer and we want to do our part to help find it. Thanks to all of you out there working to make a difference. Peace + Love ✌🏻️” James & Miracle Yoder – Founders of Not Just Coffee #blacklivesmatter
It drew attention, to be sure. And James said he would have been OK with it had people unhappy with the sign been solely in the anti-Black Lives Matter camp (and he would have left it up).
But as it turns out, local activists in the Black Lives Matter movement weren’t all pleased about it, either. On Twitter and Facebook, some called Not Just Coffee out for “appropriation” and that the message wasn’t appropriate to be used for selling coffee.
“That was not our intention,” James said.
Ashley Williams, one of the movement’s Charlotte leaders, told the Agenda she was very upset by the sign and was glad when it was taken down.
“I think our community really needs for white folks to refrain from using African American vernacular English,” she said by email. “I also want folks to ask themselves what being a ‘supporter of black lives matter’ looks like. ”
So “Stay Woke” came down and James had the new one crafted. The signs, by the way, are locally made. A company called Neonworks in South End makes them.
People still take Instagrams of the “Wake Up” sign. James says the original may end up hanging in his house.
“There was a lot of internal conflict,” he said. “I think I did the right thing.”